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Monday 20th February 2006


PAGANI ZONDA F

Pagani's latest and greatest. Nick Hall rides it to the edge -- and back

Pagani Zonda F
Pagani Zonda F

Attempts to beat Ferrari and Porsche at their own game normally meet with the same success as drunken rows with nightclub bouncers, but Horacio Pagani blew the establishment away with the Zonda back in 1999 and has raised the bar once again with the Pagani Zonda F.

There are just 60 Zondas in the world and Pagani will build just 25 Fs. So I was making travel arrangements before getting to the bottom of the invitation to drive the car in the romantic sounding San Cesario sul Panaro, which turned out to be a nondescript industrial estate just five minutes from the much more imposing Lamborghini facility and a contemptuous spit from Ferrariís gates in Modena, Italy.

Precision engineering

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The 50-year-old Argentine made his name with Modena Design, producing carbon-fibre mouldings for the aerospace industry. Engineering perfection is the norm here, thatís why this precision-engineered hypercar spent nine years in the development stages.

He enlisted the help of his aerospace compatriots and the greatest names in motorsport to build everything from the magnesium alloy wheels to the exhaust that is hydroformed from Inconel, an alloy previously found only in F1 and space.

The Zonda F is a hypercar with few peers and only the Porsche Carrera GT, Mercedes SLR and Ferrari Enzo, but this is arguably in a different league in terms of exclusivity, speed and, at Ä478,000, itís way more expensive.

As this car comes packed with electronic assistance, ABS brakes and a carbon-fibre monocoque and an Ohlins and Bilstein suspension set-up designed to soak up bumps in the road rather than jump around like an excited drunk on New Yearís Eve, itís also amongst the easiest to drive.

Itís so low that the Kevlar front-splitter protection cruelly grinds away over serious bumps and ruts, and ripping it off will cost somewhere in the region of Ä10,000 in repairs, but aside from that the Zonda F is simplicity itself.

Spectacular road presence

You canít even stall it, as the car can cruise round town in sixth gear from just 500 revs and will blip the throttle for you to prevent embarrassing gaffes in front of 1000 gawping bystanders. This car looks so spectacular that it will stop traffic and during my seven hours in the hotseat, on relatively quiet roads, no less than six locals approached to take its picture.

The bubble-style canopy is reminiscent of the Group C Sportscars that dominated Le Mans in the 1980s and the Gatling Gun exhaust cluster is the carís main signature. Look closer and every detail is exquisite, perfect, from the teeth in the wheels to the lip spoilers that combine with the wide single-plane wing to plant this car to the ground. It has spent serious time in the wind-tunnel and no car feels as solid in high-speed bends. This car is huge, simply huge, but it shrink-wraps to the driver on the move.

That cab-forward design means the front corners are clearly visible and the car is more easily placed on the road than in most modern saloons. The wider rear track has caused a few problems for some, but keep an eye on those mammoth 20-inch rear wheels and this car will blow anyoneís mind in the corners. With zero bodyroll, racing car grip and an arsenal of electronics, youíd have to be clinically depressed and looking for a way out to crash this car.

And depression just isnít an option when sat inside a car of this ilk, itís just too much fun. It looks inspired by a designer handbag and Tomorrowís World, with its red Dani leather, traditional binding straps and aviation-style switchgear contrasting with the vents, stalks and pedals that look like they belong on the Millennium Falconís grand piano. That Swatch of an instrument panel and swathes of naked carbon-fibre complete the effect. This is not just a car, itís a theatrical experience and itís no surprise that Paganiís speech is littered with references to the art world.

ďWhen I started I didnít want to build better cars than Ferrari or Lamborghini, just like Michaelangelo didnít set out to be better than Leonardo,Ē he said, although he clearly beat them anyway. ďI just wanted to express myself.Ē

Monstrous power and performance

A hypercar powered by a 7.3-litre AMG Mercedes engine is pretty much as modern as art gets, but itís very clear that the style and aesthetics are just as abundant as the speed here. And the car has that by the bucketload.

That V12 boasts 602bhp and 560lb ft of torque. And despite the monstrous weight of the engine and its vast proportions, the whole car weighs under 1,230kg.

Acceleration, then, is predictably explosive, with the 60mph mark passing in 3.6s and the Zonda F will have racked up 125mph by the time youíve counted to 10. We werenít allowed to test the top end speed of 216mph, but the way it blasted through the 100mph mark on a broken ribbon of Italian backroad confirmed it was more than up for the task.

Nothing short of an F1 car picks up so eagerly, and thankfully this car is much simpler to take to the outer reaches of sanity. Simply plant the accelerator, try to keep pace with the gearchanges in the six-speed box and soak up the noise.

That engine sounds like a distant thunder, strangely insulated from the driver at normal speeds. Give the car its full head, though, and that glorious V12 feels like itís moved inside your inner ear, itís a fantastic sound that I could never tire of. Itís totally impractical, but if I had the money, I know this car would still win the ladies in the Ferrari-littered streets of Monaco and Puerto Banus.

Greatest car ever?

Grand Prix legend Juan Manuel Fangio was heavily involved in the design. Indeed had he not passed away in 1995 then the Zonda would have been named after him and Pagani waited until now to pay homage to his great friend by placing his initial on his greatest creation to date.

Itís a fitting tribute to a great man, and might just be the greatest car in the world, everÖ

Author: Nick Hall